Oregon Rep Dennis Richardson Takes a Stand Against Common Core   21 comments

Read this week’s powerful letter by Oregon State Representative Dennis Richardson.


dennis r OREGON

Rep. Richardson’s Newsletter August 20, 2014


Common Core. The Answer to Oregon’s Failed Education System?


I flew helicopters for the Army in Vietnam. In flight school it was commonly known that one-third of us Warrant Officer Candidates would “wash-out” and not graduate. While a one-third wash-out rate may have been acceptable there, it is not acceptable for one-third of Oregon high school students to drop-out before graduation.

There are hard questions about Oregon’s education system that deserve to be answered. What will be the costs to individuals, families and society of having one-third of our students dropping out of high school? How are they going to perform in the competitive 21st century global job market? What is Governor John Kitzhaber and Oregon’s state education leaders doing to stop the race to the bottom, where Oregon currently has the second lowest graduation rate in the country, and the highest rate of chronic student absenteeism?

As families get their school supplies in order and make other preparations to help their students start the new school year on the right foot, many are questioning Oregon’s latest endeavor to fix our failed education system and wondering if it will pass the test. Today’s newsletter will address the misguided solution enacted by the Governor and state education leaders to the abysmal condition of Oregon’s public education system, by implementing the newest in a list of federally-promoted educational programs known as Common Core. To put this discussion into perspective, consider the following scenario: For years, the dilapidated Sellwood Bridge in SE Portland has been a source of concern. Out-of-date and unsafe, it needed to be completely rebuilt to remain functional, a project that is currently underway. Now imagine that because of the dilapidated condition of the Sellwood Bridge, every bridge in the state is to be torn down and rebuilt– all at the same time. Think of the cost, the disruption, the waste. Of course the idea would be ridiculous, but in a way it is exactly what is being foisted on the entire Oregon education system by mandating implementation of the Common Core, and the silence from the Legislature is deafening.

What is Common Core?

Starting this academic year, all Oregon public schools (as well as those in many other states) are scheduled to abandon previously established academic standards and implement a new and untried nationalized set of learning goals called Common Core. The performance of these standards will be measured by new standardized tests. At Common Core’s outset, when the federal government offered “stimulus” money to the state Governors that accepted Common Core, the standards and tests involved had not even been written. In other words, the Governor and state education leaders unilaterally committed all Oregon’s school districts to adopting a new statewide curriculum before it had even been developed, and Oregon was committed without Legislative consideration or approval.

Since then, Common Core’s standards and tests have been created by a group of people with very limited classroom experience, and in many cases NO classroom experience at all. Now, Common Core’s standards are being implemented without any legislative or public involvement, and still have not been fully tested. (The implementation of Common Core sounds to me like our national health plan, which was passed by Congress before any of our Congressional representatives had the opportunity to read it.) Currently many states are seeking to repeal or delay implementation of Common Core, and a great deal of legislation has been proposed across the nation to address this issue. The American Federation of Teachers union, called for a midcourse moratorium on the high-stakes consequences of Common Core. The Oregon teachers’ union (O.E.A.) has also called for a moratorium. Even Common Core’s biggest supporter, the Gates Foundation, has called for a two-year delay. Concern over prematurely implementing Common Core crosses political party lines. People who would normally be on opposite sides of the issues are banding together to speak out against Common Core.

Why is opposition to Common Core so widespread and impassioned?

Let’s ask the teachers, those who work in the ‘trenches,’ in Oregon’s classrooms, those who often spend more time with our children than anyone else. The best teachers will tell you that regardless of low pay or long hours, they are teachers because they are passionate about the subjects they teach, about learning, and about being able to make a difference in childrens’ lives. I can only imagine what it will do to the state of our classrooms if, when summer vacation ends, our teachers must throw out the lesson plans they adjust to meet their students’ needs and instead teach to Common Core’s new standardized tests—replacing curriculum with test preparation activities. The ‘heart’ and the passion that connects our best teachers to their students will be missing when they are relegated to class monitors, provided scripted materials written by bureaucrats and other non-educators. Certainly Oregon’s educational system needs to be overhauled, but Common Core is not ready to solve the systemic needs of Oregon’s failed educational system. Veteran teachers are reporting morale is at an all-time low and it’s attributed to the confusion and sterility of Common Core State Standard’s (CCSS) approach to learning and testing. This concerns me greatly, for if passion and creativity are forced out of teaching, we will lose our passionate and creative teachers.

To make matters worse, the future of our teachers are at risk. The new system will tie teacher evaluations to student success on Common Core tests without provisions made for those who teach our more “high-risk” learners, such as low-income students and those with learning disabilities. It seems an almost foregone conclusion that our at-risk learners will fail and the jobs of their teachers are jeopardized since pro-Common Core State Deputy School Superintendent Ron Saxton expects only 35% of Oregon students will pass the Common Core tests. The Oregon Department of Education has requested the U.S. Department of Education to temporarily let teachers off the hook for expected low test scores of Oregon students, but the schools and school districts will be ranked. Who then will teach our most challenged students, when teachers know their reputations or professional futures could be jeopardized if they work with at-risk students? Add the fact that teachers have been given little or no training on these new standards, and it becomes very evident that there are serious flaws with Common Core. Should we really be implementing something we are expecting students to fail? Who will flourish in this setting? Gifted students will be bored, students who already dislike school will be even more inclined to skip, and students with obstacles to learning will simply be unable to succeed. Teachers in schools that have already begun implementing Common Core tell me how struggling students are being pulled from electives in order to pass early implementation Common Core tests. These teachers are witnessing the marginalization of students whose strengths lie outside of the areas being tested. Many teachers are agonizing that Common Core’s mandate will do more harm than good, and will only compound Oregon’s problems with absenteeism and lack of on-time graduation. Is this really what we want for Oregon’s children? Of course not.

When it comes to enacting these new standards, we have more unanswered questions. How much will it cost to train teachers to implement Common Core? How much to purchase new learning materials and to acquire the technology necessary to administer and track the tests? And, who will pay? With schools already in dire financial straits, where will the money come from to implement yet another federal educational experiment on Oregon’s rising generation? Finally, it concerns me to see that many of the people behind these standards and the requirements of these tests are affiliated with multi-billion dollar companies with financial conflicts of interest.

These are companies that have near monopolies on the contracts to provide the tests and corresponding curriculum. There is a glaring conflict of interest in having mandatory materials designed by those who are positioned to profit from them. And even if profits to its originators didn’t taint this new system, even if good intentions were the sole impetus behind this top-down policy, national control of state education policies is still a bad idea.

Decisions about the education of our children should not be dictated by a select, distant few. Educational decisions are best made by those closest to the students—parents, teachers and local school boards—not far away state and federal bureaucrats and large, conflicted corporate representatives. Oregon’s education standards need local control with rational state oversight and evidence-based practices learned from Oregon’s most successful schools. Currently, Oregon’s on-time graduation rate is second worst in the nation and our student absentee rate higher than every other state. I believe in educational equality for all students and that every student deserves three things—a mentor, a reason to stay in school and an opportunity for a decent job after graduation. I believe action to fix Oregon’s failing schools system must be taken, but it should be based on what is working in Oregon’s most successful schools, not untried educational experiments fomented by national “educrats” and funded with federal largess.

Solutions for Oregon educational system’s tragic failure. Rather than fret over the dismal state of Oregon’s statewide educational system and rather than pathetic attempts by Governor Kitzhaber and his appointed education leaders to address it by implementing Common Core, let’s look to Oregon’s home-grown examples of success. Let’s look to the many stories of exemplary teaching and learning that are setting the standard for academic achievement in Oregon. At Riverdale High School in SW Portland, students in Mark Wechter’s physics class are ranked among the best national and international young bridge engineers today. At Summit High School in Bend, more than 40% of the students take AP classes prior to graduation. Students in the Portland School District have won more National Constitution Team championships than any other city in the nation. Singers in Sue Schriener’s vocal ensemble, “Souled Out” at Wilsonville High have competed nationally and are strong enough musicians to share the spotlight with professional ensembles. And there are many more stories like these. In fact, 77 Oregon public schools were exemplary according to the US News and World Report 2014 list of America’s best high schools.

The list of Oregon schools included four with gold medals (Beaverton’s International School ranked #26 out of more than 19,000 public schools nationwide), 22 with silver medals and 51 with bronze medals. With answers and examples of excellence right here in Oregon, why on earth should we diminish these rich learning environments by focusing on untried, one-size-fits-all nationalized experiments like Common Core? We shouldn’t. I believe it’s in the best interests of our students to stop implementing Common Core. It’s a remotely managed reform measure fraught with problems. Let’s look to model programs in Oregon’s own commendable schools for guidance on how to improve the performance of schools and students that are struggling. We should halt Common Core’s race to the middle and allow local schools who best understand their students to engage in creating Oregon’s educational solutions. We should focus on what it is that engages students and keeps them interested and in school, rather than on high stakes educational experiments written by “educrats” who don’t have an understanding of our children. Simply put, I strongly recommend we join the ranks of states that require “evidence-based” practices and have turned down Common Core.

Since our students are returning to class in less than a month, our Governor and state education leaders should immediately put a moratorium on Common Core. If they fail to take the initiative, our Legislative leaders should be unified in demanding an immediate moratorium on Common Core. We only have one chance to educate a child and all our children deserve better than what they’ll get from Common Core.




Representative Dennis Richardson

21 responses to “Oregon Rep Dennis Richardson Takes a Stand Against Common Core

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  1. Thank-you. GO Richardson!! Woo Hoot.

  2. This is a great summation. A good guide for educating new parents on what is actually happening to their children.

  3. Happening to their children? It’s amazing how people who have not spent significant time in a classroom have so much to say about what is right or wrong with performance standards. Unless one has taught for at least five years in a k-12 public or charter school during the last 25 years, he/she should stop blabbering. Common Core, like high academic expectations and goals for students, encourages teachers to make classroom instruction and student practice rigorous. If one has not created a unit plan, lesson plan, or performance task that promotes high academic achievement, he/she opinion is irrelevant. Parents who are concerned about Common Core should home-school, “Educational-Advocates” should start a private school. Otherwise, stop complaining about standards, and focus more on the lack of innovative resources that are available to provide all students with an education that will enable them to compete nationally and internationally.

  4. Use “common sense” instead of Common Core. Anyone who has taken the time to research the history of Common Core or even glimpsed into the math materials being used, will be outraged as to what is being forced upon our teachers, students, and families. We must put a moratorium on the testing that is scheduled for this coming Spring. We must get our parents, teachers, administrators, and our legislators to be informed. We must opt out of this Common Core!

  5. Common core has its issues. Really though common core is nothing more than set of standards. The difference is that when a student moves from one school to another the content will be the same. Before common core every state and district was on their own. So what was taught in 3rd grade in California was covered in 2nd in Oregon. This makes it difficult in students, teachers, and parents.
    As a teacher, my real issue is with high stakes testing and tieing my pay to student performance. Testing and tieing funding to it is nothing new. Let’s all remember George W Bush and the Republicans (that would be you Mr. Richardson) No Child Left Behind. There is little difference from NCLB and the current Race to the Top.
    Mr. Richardson is a proponent of returning control to local areas. I would like decision makers to stop making these monumental decisions about what is best for Oregon schools without consulting those of us who are actually working in “the trenches”. I’ve offered before to have Mr. Richardson do my job for a week so he can
    truly see what it is like to work in today’s schools but sadly he has not taken me up on my offer. The offer still stands Sir.

    • Rhonda, Rep. Richardson is very much knows how much challenge exists for teachers, especially with the training and adherence to Common Core that is mandated. Surely, you are aware of the waste of time involved in requiring many ways to do a simple math problem. for example. Teachers would be far better off if they didn’t need to use the Common Core materials and could have the freedom restored to them to personalize instruction to each child. Having each student put in the same box for the sake of being on track and the ability to move to another location and be on the same page, is not to the benefit of the students. Local districts, parents, and teachers should have the control restored to them.

  6. Neil im not saying common core is wonderful. It is challenging and rigorous. I was trying to say I look at as a set of standards no different than any other set of standards I’ve been handed in the last 13 years of teaching. Im not sure there has been a year when some standards didn’t change. People have been crying for years that we were too easy on students and now that the standards are so rigorous everyone is shouting that its too hard. Uggghhh make up your mind! This is a huge frustration. And yes, teaching kids multiple ways to do the same problem is a pain however, what works for one student may or may not work for another. Hence the reason its important to present information in more than one way. that that is actually very good teaching. Plus one of the goals in math is that students understand why something works instead of doing it because the teacher says so…also very good teaching! We want critical thinkers and the common core programs I’ve seen require it. Once again good teachers do this automatically.
    I have issues with common core don’t get me wrong but its what I’ve been given so im making the best of it! If you truly wanted to help come volunteer in a classroom so that we can break into groups and not be overcrowded with 30+students.

    • Do we really need state and especially national standards? I say no. Truly personalize education at a student’s level and see that they complete assignments that will advance them towards their potential. This is all we need to do, a process that we don’t do in our classrooms and we need to see that this is done. Students are individuals and should not be imprisoned with a one size fits all curriculum as with Common Core. Regarding math, simple math that we were taught and more important how it is used, is much more efficient and practical. No one needs to know all the steps and different ways to figure a simple math problem. Everyone can master the four basic types of math facts. Students don’t benefit doing a simple addition problem, for example, that takes many minutes when it can be done in less than one minute. Common Core math is limiting a student’s potentials, wasting teacher and student time, while being very expensive in many ways.

  7. Neil what exactly are you a doctor of?
    As for individualizing I agree. I know in my school we do individualize as best we can. We look at student data all the time and my principal, my partner, the title one teacher, the special ed teacher, and assistants meet and discuss individual students on a regular basis. That has nothing to do with standards. It takes a great deal of time and energy but our students show significant growth during the year.
    So, you dont want students to be critical thinkers? That seems odd to me.

  8. I doesn’t matter who I am and about all the credentials I have. Let’s focus on what works. I have never said that students shouldn’t be critical thinkers. Surely that is what we want. I honor and admire efforts of teachers who do their best to individualize instruction to the students. The ideal is to have each student basically working on curriculum that may or may not be the same as other students. As I understand it, this cannot happen under Common Core guidelines. If you knew that a personal education plan could be set up for every student, so they were in their own set of materials based on their levels and potentials; to be able to have a least 6 personal contacts with their teachers each day; and be able to achieve at least 2 years of progress in one year, would you be interested in seeing how this can be done?

  9. Well that sounds wonderful…not possible in the current state of education. Like I said we have 30+ students in grades k-5 and more in the middle/high school. It doesn’t matter what material you have when your class is overloaded. Instead of fighting a curriculum how about we focus energies on what can actually impact schools. Smaller class sizes and enough funding to have a full school year. This is the first year in about 7 years that I will have a full school year. Legislation needs to look at simple fixes like leveling the playing field. I work for a county district that pays 3 times higher amounts for busing than the city schools yet we get the same amount from the state.

  10. Having a different set of curriculum for every student has never happened under any standards so that is not a common core issue.

  11. All of you people supporting common core are as absurd as common core itself. Only a set of standards? Maybe, but an incredibly poor, academically challenged set of standards…at best. I do not know all the details of common core, but I can tell you from personal experience, common core math is absurd. I have a straight A student that just started the 7th grade and she is in the advanced math class. I went through math in HS and college with straight A’s, but it took us together 3 hours trying to figure out a couple of problems she had on linear equations because of the obtuse wording and inane questions, combined with absolutely no teaching in her math book. I kept asking where’s the book that taught you about what these questions are asking. She said this is the only book we have. There was no teaching in the book, only questions. You’re supposed to derive the knowledge from a bunch of questions that you should only be asked after being taught the material, which you never are. So what do you do you have to do? We had to go online and find a straight forward site that teaches the subject matter in a sane, simple way, then come back and answer the questions in the inane common core book. Incredible. How can anyone with a brain support this incredibly stupid set of “standards”? This methodology is not going to raise our children’s knowledge, it’s going to sink them all, and make them totally unprepared for college, and that’s assuming they’re lucky enough to get good enough grades to qualify after being betrayed by the arrogant academics that came up with this crap. I predict common core won’t last more than a couple of years….but how many kids’ educations will it have ruined during that time?

  12. For those who have supported Common Core, I venture to say they are only uninformed. Sadly, many teachers have had this required curriculum imposed on them because of the state being coerced into accepting Race To The Top funds – the result being the curriculum mandated by the state. I would be certain that teachers haven’t taken the time to do much research on the topic, and are caught up in trickled down requirements. Many teachers are fearful of having their job in jeopardy, if they spoke out against Common Core. Hopefully, it won’t take 2 years to get rid of this mess. As was pointed out in a school board meeting last night, it takes the state to finally listen to its taxpaying citizens to refuse to further impose this on school districts. Here in Oregon there exists a statute that says that a school board is its own entity, not being required to be told by the Oregon Dept. of Education and other related groups to be told what to do. That being the case, school boards should be able to set their own standards and curriculum. Neither the federal or the state government can force a school board and its schools to use Common Core. I don’t understand why we don’t take our constitutional right to have a say in matters related to educating our young people.

  13. Wow it sounds like your daughter is having a really hard time. Im very sorry. Have you contacted her teacher because it sounds like there isn’t much teaching if she has to figure everything out on her own.

    • Sadly, if the teachers don’t understand the challenges of common core and take steps to impart the knowledge in a different way, the students will suffer. We actually have twins, boy and girl, both in the same advanced algebra course, but with different teachers. My daughter is the better student, but she’s in a class with a teacher that is not making adjustments for the weaknesses in common core, while my son’s teacher is and my son is doing ok in his class. We are taking steps trying to get our daughter into my son’s teacher’s class but we haven’t heard yet whether that’s possible. Obviously the better the teacher the greater the chance your child will survive common core.

  14. I have a 9th grader who had science homework one week that she could not find the answer to in the material that was provided, it was a chapter with review questions at the end. I always encourage her to come to me for help, she did and I read through the material, it was extremely convoluted. I’m not sure how many times I read through but, the information was not there. The next week the same thing happened so, I took it to the teacher and asked her if she could do the problem then show me how she found the answer. She tried for several minutes, then she put her pencil down and said I can’t do it, I see what you’re talking about. On another night my daughter was doing math and was so frustrated she was in tears so, I took it to her math teacher and asked her to help my daughter, this teacher also could not do the work. I am going to opt out my daughter from taking all standardized tests and since she tests very high her school should take notice.

  15. I just found out there is no science Common Core, so I’m very embarrassed. I not an educated person, just a parent trying to figure this all out. Her math does say Common Core all over it though and when the math teacher could not do the problem she blamed my daughter, last years teacher and me for not giving her advance notice before I came in. Please don’t bite my head off I was mistaken.

    • Kathy, I think it is great that you are doing what you can to figure this all out. I wish every parent would do that. I am learning that many states are ahead of Oregon with the Common Core curriculum and procedures. One thing I just learned was very disturbing. I still can’t believe this history book was accepted by any school. This September 2014 video along with other good info, says that the new Pearson History books (2013 edition) devotes about 3 paragraphs to Judaism and 3 pages to Christianity, and 32 pages favorably to Islam. I respect all religions. Even though we are basically a Christian based nation as far as history is concerned, I still find it hard to believe that this out-of-balance material exists. I guess it fits in with the out-of-balance Common Core material. 🙂

  16. Thank you Dennis Richardson for your support.
    I have been opposed to the Common Core Curriculum since discussions began regarding its implementation into our school systems. I watch my 3rd grade student struggle daily with these new standards. My child is a bright, intelligent individual and since common core has been mandated to be taught in our public schools, I have watched her deteriorate intellectually, emotionally and behaviorally in regards to her enthusiasm regarding school and especially around math. There are now times when she is defiant regarding her participation in math class. I have gone as far as attending school with her and sitting in on her math classes to ensure that I have an understanding of what is being conveyed to my student regarding math curriculum.
    I must say, and this is just my personal opinion, that what is being taught and the way that it is presented is beyond the comprehension of me, my wife and my child at times. I see this Common Core as a set up for failure. I am an educated individual, work in the higher end of the technology industry and get baffled most times with the homework that my child has been assigned to complete.
    I have decided to make it my mission to do whatever I can to get Common Core repealed in Oregon. I know I am only one person with one voice. I have zero influence over legislative rules and what is being taught to my child. However, I am hoping that my one voice will influence others to step up and voice there honest opinions about what is being forced upon our children and the systemic degradation of our educational system.
    I have created a Facebook page called Parents and Educators Against Common Core Curriculum in Oregon. I invite you and anyone else to join this page to help in creating a community of concerned parents, educators and politicians opposed to the continuance of Common Core in the State of Oregon.
    The Facebook URL is: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Parents-and-Educators-Against-Common-Core-Curriculum-in-Oregon/1470914356521574
    Thank you again.

  17. Hi Mark. Your one voice can become many. Consider attending your local school board meetings and express what you have. Pass the word to other families and ask them to do the same. You as one of many parents, your teachers, and your local board should have local control restored to them. What community do you live in? I wish you well in your important responsibility as a parent.

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